Last weekend I thoroughly enjoyed giving driving advice at the LLuest Equestrian Centre, Aberystwyth, using the university’s facilities of the Olympic-sized indoor school. I am very grateful to Hannah Appleton, centre manager, for inviting me to run this clinic and hope there will be sufficient interest and enthusiasm from drivers and would-be drivers to hold further training days.
I was asked by a couple of drivers to explain about getting started in driven showing. Most people start off in the grass roots ring using their exercise vehicle.
There will be a range of classes suitable for you. These may be based on the type of vehicle you drive — such as 2-wheeled or 4-wheeled exercise vehicle — or on whether you want to enter a contest which is purely a showing class or one which involves some specific activity. In style and performance classes you are required to perform certain movements in your driven show. Pleasure driving classes are popular and are judged on turnout and performance, with simple tasks to be completed.
There are classes that focus on the type of equine — for example donkey, registered Welsh, Shetland, native breed — or the age (eg veteran) or experience of the equine, such as novice driving horse. Novice often means not to have won 2 1sts in driving by the date of the show. There are even classes for colour.
Of course some equines are ride and drive animals and many shows have classes where they can be shown under saddle and placed in a ridden class before being judged in a carriage. In the event of a tie between 2 entries, the winner of the driven section takes precedence and overall 1st place. As the rider does not have to be the driver, it allows other family members or friends to enjoy competing.
There are classes where the ability of the driver (the whip) is the focus of the judging. Examples are junior or veteran whip, novice, lady or gentleman whip, disabled whip and also whip and groom classes.
Whip and groom classes allow the usual driver to show off the turnout in a driven show before handing over the reins to their groom (assistant) so both are judged driving.
Young drivers are greatly encouraged, often having separate classes at shows. There are also the coveted Osborne Refrigerator Qualifiers, with classes for 2 age groups for young drivers of exercise vehicles. These are judged as an adult showing class — with every aspect of the turnout considered — in addition to driving skill.
There are even grass roots concours d’elegance classes at a few shows. Concours classes are judged purely on the elegant appearance of the turnout, often by a guest such as an artist. Passengers are often carried and sometimes a carriage dog iis included to add to the overall picture — although “fancy dress” or period costume is not allowed.
So what is the judge looking for the grass roots classes?
It is essential to read the schedule in order to ensure you fit in with the class description.
Then the judge looks at the whole turnout — horse, harness, carriage and spares kit, driver and groom turnout and their ability. Everything must be scrupulously clean and tidy, appropriate and safe.
After examining your turnout from afar when the class enters the ring and drives several circuits together, the judge calls everyone into line and inspects each turnout closely before asking you to drive your show.
Your turnout may be immaculate, but you are also judged on your driving and for driven showing it is essential that you drive using the coaching hand, that is with the reins in the left hand with the right hand holding the whip and assisting the left hand.
This is a skill well worth learning as it also allows you to drive with greater safety and is especially useful on the roads. When you drive 2-handed, as in riding, you have to shuffle your hands up the reins to shorten your reins, to slow and stop — remember unlike riding you cannot communicate to the horse through your seat!
Driving reins are very long and with a carriage behind the horse you need to be able to stop or turn quickly. Having the reins in your left hand allows you to reach quite a distance forward with your right hand to take a good pull of both reins evenly as soon as you need to if you need to slow down quickly or of a single rein if you have to swerve!
If you don’t already know how, now is a good time to start to learn coachman’s style of rein handling from someone proficient at the skill. With practise you will soon be able drive confidently using this safer method and will have made a huge step forward in your driving ready for the show season. It really isn’t as difficult as it may appear!
More next week about the details of the judge’s inspection and tips on how to turnout horse, driver and groom, as well as on how to drive in the showring.